I had assembled 5 people to take the trip including friend and mentor Daisy Gilardini and her husband, artist David McEown . We all met in Anchorage, took the ERA flight to Homer that evening and got acquainted and briefed at dinner that night. The weather looked promising but the next morning was pouring rain and cold, our flight was delayed until the afternoon, but we got in the air by 4:30pm. It was August 6th – my birthday.
Thirty minutes into the flight, I lost any doubt as to my motivation for planning this, my third trip. The Katmai coast is a spectacular display of glaciers, ice, sheer mountain cliffs and emerald green forests and meadows spreading into the Pacific Ocean. The mountains are so rugged they appear impenetrable. We landed on the beach at Hallo Bay at the foot of Hallo Glacier. Bears were seen grazing in the meadows as we flew over and the anticipation was palpable. After unloading the three planes we carried our gear to the camping spot just over the berm and near a rocky spit.
One of the guys asked Kent “what can we do to help set up”. He responded “Nothing, I will set up and ‘Deputy Deb’ will take you to see the bears. Grab your gear and head out.” So much for warming up to the bear guide position. With feigned confidence I led our group of six along the 2km hike to the Middle River. Here we found a bear named ‘Daisy’ with her two yearling cubs, one male and one female. This is the bear that last year raised her cubs on Inagiak Island, a 2km swim from Hallo bay. We found her and the cubs on the far side of the creek and since we had not unpacked our waders we were bound to stay on our side of the river. A relief for me. For Kerry and his father Ken, first time bear viewers, this would be plenty close enough for their first encounter. We enjoyed them from a distance until the last of the golden light disappeared behind the Alaska Range.
By the time we got back to camp, Kent had all the tents up including a wonderfully large teepee style cook tent. We quickly found a meal of instant noodles and spent the remaining light organizing our gear. The day ended with everyone in high spirits, and our first night bedding down with the bears. Most of us slept lightly and intermittently. One’s first night in a bear haven can be a challenge. Add to that the electric bear fence was not up yet.